Defining a fruit or vegetable can be a confusing endeavor and a lot of times the same piece of produce can be classified as both a fruit and a vegetable depending on who you ask. A carrot checks every box here as a vegetable, but a carrot plant produces fruits.
A Carrot Is a Vegetable That Produces Fruits
In botany, a fruit is the seed bearing structure of a plant and forms from a pollinated ovary. Botanically a vegetable is every other part of the plant that is not the seed bearing structure including the roots, stalk, stems, and leaves.
Carrots are biennial plants meaning they take two years to complete their life cycle. Carrots are typically harvested as annuals and not allowed to complete their life cycle. Carrots that are allowed to overwinter and have two growing seasons will produce fruits called schizocarps.
Schizocarps are the structure that result from successfully pollinated carrot flowers and contain the carrot seeds. They are botanically classified as fruits produced by the carrot plant. Another example of a schizocarp is the winged maple leaf structure that falls from the tree and looks like a helicopter spinning its way to the ground.
The carrot is a root vegetable. This is more of an agricultural term and botanists define a carrot more strictly as a taproot. The taproot of a carrot is a storage organ that stores carbohydrates for the plant. The plant does this so well that it makes a good vegetable.
Horticulturally a Carrot Is a Vegetable
Horticulture is the growing of plants for human use as food or non-food use. It differs from agriculture in that crop sizes are smaller and more variety of crops are grown.
In horticulture, a vegetable is defined as something that comes from a herbaceous annual and a fruit from a woody perennial. A perennial is a plant that comes back and continues to produce year after year. A fruit tree like apple, peach, or cherry trees are examples of woody perennials.
A carrot is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its life cycle. This fits neither category but is closer to an annual that lives 1 year than a fruit tree that lives 20. It is also a herbaceous plant with green leafy foliage above the ground. Horticulturally, a carrot is a vegetable.
Culinary Use of Carrots – Fruit or Vegetable?
The culinary definition of a fruit or vegetable has to do with the taste and texture of the produce but also when it is typically served.
Vegetables have a more mild and savory taste with a rougher texture and tend to be served as a main dish or side dish during the main part of the meal. Fruits have a sweet or tart taste with a smoother texture and are usually served as a dessert or snack.
Carrots are sweet for a vegetable and can be used in desserts but apples, oranges, and bananas all have more than 2x the sugar of a carrot. This one could be argued by some crazy carrot loving chef but I think for the most part it’s safe to say that carrots are used as vegetables in cooking.
Supreme Court Weighs In on Fruits and Vegetables
In 1893 there was a case that made its way to the Supreme Court in which the plaintiff alleged that tomatoes were fruits and he should not have to pay the import tax on vegetables when importing tomatoes.
During the case the court called fruit and vegetable merchants to testify and explain how they used the terms fruit and vegetable when talking about their merchandise to customers and other vendors. Different dictionary definitions were read of various fruits and vegetables.
Eventually, the Supreme Court decided that although tomatoes were botanically and scientifically a fruit their common usage, culinary usage, and commonly referenced as a fruit or vegetable, culturally, that tomatoes were a vegetable and should be taxed as such. This case was Nix vs. Hedden.
Dictionary Definitions of Carrot, Fruit, & Vegetable
Since we’re trying to define things looking at a dictionary full of definitions makes sense.
According to Merriam Webster, a carrot is ” a biennial herb (Daucus carota of the family Umbelliferae, the carrot family) with a usually orange spindle-shaped edible root”.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of a vegetable is “a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal”.
And it defines a fruit as “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant especially : one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed”.
Although a carrot is called a herb in its definition and not a vegetable it fits the definition of a vegetable perfectly. It is a herbaceous plant grown for an edible part, the roots.
Our culture has been a little wacky lately but I believe I still have enough of a grip on it to say that most people if asked would consider a carrot a vegetable and not a fruit.
I have never seen a fruit salad with carrots in it but see garden salads with greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots regularly.
Facts About Carrots
- The first wild carrots man collected to grow were an ivory color. This was around the 10th century. Next came yellow and purple varieties. Orange carrots didn’t come along until the 17th century and come from the earlier yellow varieties.
- Baby carrots aren’t a variety of carrot but are carrots picked while they are still immature.
- Carrot plants are biennials that take two years to complete their life cycle. They will flower and produce seed in their secondy year of life. If you’re not interested in collecting the seed form the flowers you can take some of the flowers and put them in a vase of water with food coloring and in a few days the flowers will have soaked up the dye and changed color.
- Carrots can be used to distill alcohol.
- Carrots contain large amounts of beta-carotene, a chemical that the body can turn into vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to be good for eyesight.
- If you eat too many carrots your skin really can turn a tint of yellow/orange.
- There is a carrot pie flavored jelly bean.
To learn about different types of carrots check out “Different Types & Varieties of Carrots?“